Universiteit Leiden

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Incentive for research on exoplanets and free will

Two Leiden scientists - Ignas Snellen and Bernhard Hommel - have been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant. The grant will fund their research over the coming five years on exoplanets and free will.

The ERC Advanced Grant is intended for established researchers who are leaders in their field of expertise and has been awarded to astronomer Ignas Snellen and cognitive psychologist Bernhard Hommel. The Grant  – a maximum of 2.5 million euros – will enable them to carry out research over the coming five years. 

Ignas Snellen – Professor of Astronomy

Professor Ignas Snellen's research will be on exoplanets, planets that orbit around other suns than ours. Snellen is studying the atmospheres of these planets. We are already able to examine the atmospheres of large 'gas giants' like Jupiter and Snellen is hoping that new methods will enable him to explore the atmospheres of smaller planets. 

Research on exoplanets is highly complex: the nearest star is 100,000 times more distant than our Sun. Snellen: ‘It is remarkable that we are able to do this research using Earth-bound telescopes. The images we receive are distorted by our own atmosphere. I have developed a method of compensating for this, and it may be that in time we will find planets that have oxygen, just as we do on Earth. That won't happen in the coming  five years, but we can start to lay the foundations now.' 

Bernhard Hommel – Professor of General Psychology

Human behaviour is frequently explained as the outcome of a struggle between free will and habits. Our behaviour is determined in the first instance by conscious processes based on the aims we want to achieve. These goal-oriented processes are in turn influenced by stimuli from outside that can lead to unconscious actions.  

According to Professor Bernhard Hommel, there's more going on than this. His research shows that the degree to which goal-oriented processes direct our behaviour depends on our determination to achieve that goal, or our flexibility in letting the goal go.  Depending on the task, the situation and personal experiences, we ourselves determine how great or small the influence of our goals is on our behaviour. With his ERC Grant Bernhard Hommel will be able to carry out further research on this process of 'meta-control'.

Read more about Bernhard Hommel's research.

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